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We Discover Northern Europe #3 — Estonia

BLOG #42, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WE DISCOVER NORTHERN EUROPE #3
ESTONIA
October 19, 2016

Estonia City View - from, "Insight Guides" to Baltic States
Estonia City View – from “Insight Guides” to Baltic States

All our lives, we’d heard about the three fascinating Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; three small neighboring Northern European countries that have shared histories, similar geographies, different languages, and separate identities. They lie between Scandinavia to the north, Poland to the south, and Finland and Russia to the east. Their combined total land mass is only 67,000 square miles, about the size of Oklahoma—even smaller than Austria. Although they are much alike, they are also distinctively different from each other. According to Insight Guide editors, Lithuanians are stereotypically the most outgoing and nationalistic. Latvians are the most rural in outlook; because Russia did its utmost to swallow up its identity, today only 60% of Latvians are Latvian rather than Russian. Estonia is more influenced by Scandinavia. Under the heading of “Showing Affection” in the guidebook is this thought-provoking paragraph:

Old Town Fortress
Old Town Fortress

“Estonians have mastered the art of being impeccably polite without being friendly. Friendship, for them, is for life…. Despite their differences, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are united by a love of nature and the outdoors. Admittedly, they enjoy it in different ways. Lithuanians will drive their car to a beauty spot and blast their surroundings with pop music, whereas Latvians will organize barbecues or swimming parties. Estonians tend to regard such habits with horror, going to great lengths to find a truly solitary spot where they can sit in silence.”

 

Walking to Old Town
Walking to Old Town

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, it was only possible for us to visit one of the three: Tallinn, the fairytale capitol of Estonia. It was a heartstoppingly beautiful blue-sky day when the Zuiderdam arrived. It took some getting used to for us to shake off distance misconceptions. Tallinn is only 53 miles from Helsinki, Finland; and 80 miles from St. Petersburg, Russia. This close proximity to giants such as Russia has resulted in a tragic past for the Baltic States. Every time Russia sneezes, they shudder. This is one reason they pay so much attention to U. S. politics, for if Russia should once again swallow them up, if the U.S. refuses to honor its treaties, one gobble and they’d be erased from the face of the map.

But it’s not just Russia that has dominated Estonia. The first conquerors wereestonia-alexander-nevsky-cathedral-scan the Danes; since the Estonians held off 1,000 ships, Denmark called in Teutonic Knights; together, in 1227, they took over Estonia. Sweden was next, but proved so repressive that Estonians turned to Peter the Great. By 1721, Russia was firmly in control. Estonia remained subjugated for 270 years until on August 20, 1991, with Russian tanks rolling into Tallinn, Estonia formally declared its independence. Thus, Estonia has only been independent for a paltry 25 years in its entire history!

Tallinn is a medieval walking town with      meandering cobblestone streets. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to stay long in the lovely old city. Apparently, it is today being loved to death by Russians, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, Germans, and Danes—just for starters. Yet, in spite of it all, Estonians revel in their newly won freedom.

estonia-toompea-castle-scan
Just as was true of the Danes, Estonians were all outdoors, savoring the early May sunshine. They are so far north, Northern Europe is, that they have very long gloomy winters, with precious little sunshine. Consequently, when May comes, no one wants to stay indoors!

It was with great reluctance that we watched Tallinn receding from view, vowing to return in order to explore more of those three magical little nations, each reveling in its new-found freedom.

Toompea Castle

 

 

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Grace Livingston Hill's "Happiness Hill"

BLOG # 34, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #22
GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL’S HAPPINESS HILL
August 21, 2013

Yes, another summer is giving way to autumn, and here in the Colorado high country, on serpentine Conifer Mountain Drive, splotches of yellow in the aspens signal the coming autumn.

For several weeks now, ever since I first turned the calendar page from July to August, I’ve wrestled with our August book. Since so many of you have told me you’ve faithfully sought out and purchased each of the 21 previous titles in the series, I take each new selection seriously. Which brings me to you: what are your responses to the series, based as they are on my own favorite books? I’d like to know.

August. It’s a lazy month. For the young, at the end of it is that dreaded yet longed-for thing called school. For the older, it’s “back to the grindstone.” In Europe half the continent can be found on the beaches during magical August.

So it isn’t the month for a heavy read – but a light one. But for me, the hanging question has been, “How light?” So I searched through my library, trying to find a book that while light still held within its pages something enduring, meaningful, heart-tugging, worthy of the last days of summer. Took me three separate reads before I found it.

copy of two books.

First I read Emilie Loring’s Give Me One Summer. I read it because the lighthouse/seashore cover promised summer romance. It was a good read, but in the end, it left me empty. Perhaps because the romance seemed so superficial. Next, I turned to another seacoast novel, Grace Livingston Hill’s Rainbow Cottage. I liked it very much for it featured wonderful seacoast and floral imagery. Plenty of suspense. But its over-the-top preachiness bothered me some; but what bothered me even more was the protagonists’ lack of growth at the end: just float on old money and live in a castle in Ireland. In short, it was little more than a Christian fairytale. All the female protagonist did was be beautiful and genteel and be taken care of by a virile young man who also lived on old money.

So I turned to Happiness Hill. Grace Livingston Hill’s Christian romances have always intrigued me. For one reason, perhaps because for more than a hundred years now, Christian parents have considered them a safe “Sabbath read” for their children. Grace Livingston Hill (1866 – 1947) was born in Wellsville, New York to Presbyterian minister Charles Montgomery Livingston and his wife, Marcia Macdonald Livingston, both of them being writers; as was Grace’s aunt, Isabella Macdonald Alden, who became a famous writer for children writing under the pseudonym, Pansy.

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Wikipedia describes Hill’s novels as “quite simplistic in nature: good versus evil. As Hill believed the Bible was very clear about what was good and evil in life, she reflected that cut-and-dried design in her own works. She wrote about a variety of different subjects, almost always with a romance worked into the message and often essential to the return to grace on the part of one or several characters. . . . A secondary subject would always be God’s ability to restore. Hill aimed for a happy, or at least satisfactory, ending to any situation, often focusing on characters’ new or renewed faith as impetus for resolution.”

In my own escape-reading (after I read serious, heavy reading, her books are just that to me) I think that what weakened the power of her books, at least in my eyes, is how stereotypical and formulaic most of her plots are: in essence, at the end of much travail and torment, the Christian and the wealthy protagonist walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand, into a happily-ever-after existence, all their troubles left behind. Clearly, Hill’s noblesse oblige plots worked, for millions of her books have sold down through the years. Almost always, too, her books contain one or two almost unbelievably nasty and cruel villains.

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Which brings us to Happiness Hill. In it I found what I’ve too often missed in Hill’s novels: a strong work ethic coupled with a strong family with character being a constant. Thus, in this novel, Hill managed to create a heroine who belatedly realizes that only as she anchors her ship of life on one side, with the anchor of a strong loving family; and, on the other side, with the enduring anchor of a personal relationship with God, will her ship not founder. For if all one has is a line from one’s ship with an open loop on either end, then that romance is no stronger than a flip of the loop on either end.

And this, my dear friends, is what makes Happiness Hill enduring, lasting, and a joy to both read and re-read—for it contains two very strong such anchors.

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You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a copy of this book, either in hardback or paper. But let me encourage you to spend a little extra effort and time searching out one with a dust-jacket such as the evocative one depicted in this blog.